Over 70 years since it first made its debut on the big screen, “It’s a Wonderful Life” remains a holiday classic and makes its way onto TV screens around the world during the Christmas season. The uplifting movie tells the story of George Bailey as he considers taking his life one Christmas Eve. Luckily for him, Clarence, a guardian angel trying to earn his wings, visits him and helps him understand the true meaning of life: What makes a person rich? Is it the wealth of material possessions collected over the course of a lifetime? Or something intangible, less easily named?
Theatrikos Theatre Company is bringing the story to the stage for three weekends in December—but co-directors Virginia Brown and Linda Sutera decided to change things up a bit by performing it as a live 1940s radio broadcast.
“We both love radio shows,” Sutera explained. “We happened upon this radio version of it,” and the rest is history.
Sutera and Brown had previously directed a standard staged version of the play for Theatrikos in 2008 so directing it as a radio play offered a new challenge for them. Actors have several roles each and every part of the production from the sound effects to the music will be done live. There will even be live radio commercials for local businesses written by assistant director Chrissy Doba.
“We get to incorporate several other groups of people and that’s been really fun and expands it in other ways,” Brown said. “It’s a great way for us to interface with the community.”
Traditional radio sound effects performed by Steve King, Will McDonald and Esther Smith incorporate unique materials such a chimes to signify when Clarence descends from the heavens to meet George, a leather belt clapped to create the sounds of ice cracking, clickers to mimic crickets chirping in the night and more.
Costumes were designed to bring the audience back in time to the Golden Age of Radio with classy vests and flowing skirts.
“We try very hard to be very particular with the things that were in the late 1940s,” Sutera said.
During a dress rehearsal, she reminded the cast that their cell phones have to stay out of sight and several actors discussed tactics to cover up tattoos.
Live music performed by pianist Kenlynn Winsor and singers both before the show and during intermission will also include only songs that existed during the time period.
Throughout the course of the play, as Clarence shows George the important role he played in the lives of others, he eventually understands that family and friends are what truly make a person rich.
In that spirit, proceeds from the Thursday, Dec. 7, performance will be donated to the family of the theater’s former box office manager, Ginger Haviland, who lost her father and all of their possessions in a house fire.
“As a community theater, our friends are our families,” said Drew Purcell, Theatrikos executive director. “We hope this brings them a bit of joy during this painful period and helps them as they rebuild their lives.”